Saturday 24 February 2018

'Victim blaming is unacceptable' - Newstalk host won't broadcast show in protest at George Hook comments

George Hook and Dil Wickremasinghe
George Hook and Dil Wickremasinghe
Cathal McMahon

Cathal McMahon

One of Newstalk's female presenters will not host her show this weekend in protest at comments made about rape by her colleague George Hook and the alleged failure by management to act in the case.

In a statement, published on Twitter this evening, Dil Wickremasinghe said she was "appalled and disgusted" by the comments made by Mr Hook on his show on Newstalk last Friday.

Ms Wickremasinghe, who hosts Global Village on the station on Saturday evenings, is also strongly critical of station management, and has accused bosses of being "unsupportive and unwelcoming" of female presenters.

In her statement the presenter said she was a victim of sexual abuse when she was just 13, saying her abuser was a 70-year-old man.

Describing her reaction when she heard Mr Hook make the controversial comments, Ms Wickremasinghe wrote: "My immediate reaction was this time he has gone too far and surely the station will react appropriately and at the very least suspend him immediately from the airwaves until a decision is made regarding his future."

Describing her own experience the female host said: "Like many other survivors of sexual abuse and violence I didn't report it or seek support sooner because I thought it was my fault. I actually believed until I was well into my 30's that at the tender age of 13 I was to blame that my first sexual experience was with a 70-year-old man."

She continued: "Victim blaming is unacceptable, irresponsible and dangerous. I am deeply disappointed that so far, the only action there has been to address the hurt and distress caused by the comments has been an apology by George Hook and Newstalk. In my opinion, this does not go far enough, particularly as this is not the first time it has happened."

Ms Wickremasinghe  said she voiced her discontent to management after the segment was aired and told them that she didn't feel she could share the same airwaves with Mr Hook until a formal disciplinary action was taken.

"Like many of my colleagues I felt as a station we need to take a strong stance to show that we have a social conscience and do not condone victim blaming."

She admitted that she is "deeply unsatisfied" with management at the station over their approach to gender balance.

"As a result, female presenters are segregated to the weekend schedule. I believe this culture is connected to George Hook's comments

"I feel unable to share the airwaves with an individual who has no regard for the duty of care we have to the public and as such will not be presenting Global Village this weekend and management understand my position. Most importantly it is my duty as a parent to my 2-year-old son Phoenix and my 4-week-old daughter Xavier to act and be the change I want to see in the world.

"I am heartened that there has been a public outrage and Newstalk have launched a full investigation on this matter which I hope will conclude within the next few days so that I can return to presenting Global Village on Saturday 23rd September."

Mr Hook's comments last week were made while he discussed the case of a woman (19), who alleges she was raped by a former member of the British swim team.

"Is there no blame to the person who puts themselves in danger?" he asked.

A total of 28 complaints have been made to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) regarding Mr Hook's comments, including one from the Women's Council of Ireland.

On Monday, the Dalata Hotel Group withdrew its sponsorship from Newstalk as it could not "support any radio station that allows inappropriate and hurtful comments to be made".

The sponsorship for High Noon is believed to be worth about up to €250,000.

Earlier this week, Mr Hook issued an unreserved apology on air.

"I made comments about rape on the programme that were totally inappropriate and unacceptable and I should never have made them," he said.

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